Thursday, May 21, 2009

My Odyssey from “Renaissance” to “Reformation”

Dear friends,

Yesterday I blogged about my early childhood memories in the Midwest. Today I would like to share a few paragraphs about the next several years of my life after that.



My Odyssey from “Renaissance” to “Reformation”

by Virginia Knowles in August 2005


When I was about seven years old, living in a suburb of San Francisco, my parents made a really wise decision: they pulled the plug on our TV! We were addicted to sit-coms and needed to use our time more productively. For the next several years, we had the opportunity to develop creatively and intellectually without as much distraction. Mom and Dad took us to concerts, plays, Renaissance Fairs, art and history museums, ethnic restaurants, and many other cultural places. We often went camping in the Sequoia National Park and Yosemite. (The picture is our family at Crater Lake in Oregon in the mid 1970's. I'm on the right. Yes, we looked like hippies and my brother's hair was much longer than mine.) We grew blackberries, corn and tangerines in the backyard, and pansies, golden poppies and plums in the front yard. We could go to a bookstore and buy anything we wanted. We took art, music and drama classes in the community. I can’t count how many musical instruments we had in the house. My brother John played the trumpet, trombone, piano, synthesizer, organ, and other instruments, while Barb specialized in the cello. They were active in band and orchestra, so there was always a great high school musical to attend! They were much more self-disciplined than I was, but I did take piano lessons for several years, and later added the mountain dulcimer and guitar to my repertoire. We also attended music theory, history and performance classes at a local conservatory for quite some time. Yes, we were quite a “Renaissance” family when it came to the arts and book knowledge. However, for all the blessing this was, I remained deep in the spiritual “Dark Ages” for these preteen years in the mid 1970s. God was missing from all of our pursuits!

You see, historically speaking, the Renaissance in southern Europe was largely a rebirth of classical, humanistic knowledge. The Reformation in northern Europe, on the other hand, was saturated in Scripture and a total reliance on the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross. I already had the Renaissance in my life. It wasn’t enough. I needed a personal Reformation, a total rebirth and reshaping from the inside out. Then came July 1976. I had just finished 7th grade and mocked the crazy Christians who tried to witness to me. Yet in his mercy, the Lord reached down and saved me when I certainly wasn’t looking for him. Thus started a spiritual odyssey that not only gave me citizenship into God’s kingdom, but transformed my approach to creativity, the arts, and learning in general.

In Spring 1977, we moved from San Francisco to Baltimore. In my new chorus class at school, I sat next to a sweet girl named Anne Rittler, who invited me to Timonium Presbyterian Church. Her parents were so faithful to drive me there for Sunday services and youth meetings. It was here that I began a season of intense Bible study, fell in love with Christian literature, learned countless hymns and Christian folk songs, sang in the youth choir, went to a James Ward concert, and was sent on my first overseas summer mission trip. After a mere year and half, our family moved to northern Virginia. In this new chapter of life, I blossomed even more creatively in the faith. Inspired by the Saturday Night Alive praise and worship services sponsored by two local churches, as well as Keith Green and 2nd Chapter of Acts concerts, I started writing my own Christian songs and setting psalms to music. My oil painting took on inspirational themes such as Christ’s sacrifice, prayer, and entering into God’s presence. I devoured Christian books and magazines, and decided to go to business school so that someday I could own a Christian bookstore. When I picked up my pen or sat at the computer to write, it was to encourage my fellow believers and to witness to those who didn’t yet know the Savior.

As God graciously brought this Reformation to each facet of my life, learning and the arts became a means to not only worship my Creator (who made each of us in his creative image) but to reach out with a redemptive mission and a message. This is what I also try to do as I home school my children. I don’t want to just expose them to the best in art, music, literature, and so forth – though these are very good things. I want to aim for spiritual transformation – to encourage them to seek God wholeheartedly and to use their gifts for the Kingdom rather than for themselves. We have a long way to go in this area; I must continually set myself to fresh resolve. This is also my prayer as I write each Hope Chest issue or book -- that whatever I say will bring honor and glory to him who gave me each gift.

Talk About It: How has God worked to draw forth creativity in your life? How can you use his gifts for his glory?


This article originally appeared in my e-magazine, The Hope Chest, in August 2005. You can read that entire issue here: Making Melody in Our Hearts.

It also corresponds with a recent blog post: This Is My Song and I Sing.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Childhood Memories: Our Kansas City Years

Dear friends and family,

A few weeks ago, I received an e-mail from a distant cousin in Iowa, John Woolson, who had stumbled on a blog post I wrote two years ago about my Revolutionary War ancestors Captain Samuel Ransom and his son Colonel George Palmer Ransom. John mentioned that his sister and her husband had been involved in Methodist ministry for over 50 years. It’s funny how even stray little comments like this can trigger memories from decades ago.

At the mention of an elderly Methodist minister, my mind instantly leapt to kindly Rev. and Mrs. Allen, my Aunt Nancy’s parents-in-law. I treasure distinct memories of visiting their home in small town Linneus, Missouri, at age seven. I remember Mrs. Allen's vegetable garden in the front yard, and that she made pickles from the cucumbers she grew. We kids discovered a robin's nest with pale blue hatched eggs in it, put it in a cardboard box, and took it home. Playing the board game Life, we moved little cars around the board, picking up a tiny plastic spouse and children along the life journey. (Did I ever dream that I would someday need a van to seat 10 children in my Real Life? Not in a million years!) After strolling to the village antique store, I purchased a small glass cat playing with a ball, which might have been the start of my extensive glass animal collection. (Whatever happened to that?) My end-of-day memory was snuggling into a borrowed white flannel nightgown and going to sleep in a cozy guest room in their two story white house. Do you get the feeling of warm welcome and hospitality, of diligent and delightful homemaking? That’s an abiding impression to a young child. It’s funny that I didn’t even recall that it was Thanksgiving until I found an old pho
to in a box yesterday. The inscription on the back notes that it was 1970, and that Mom Allen took the photo of me reading Good Housekeeping figuring it might make a good ad for the magazine. I’m sorry to say that I am not particularly Good at Housekeeping myself…

I wrote those recollections down quickly in my journal a few weeks ago, later sharing them with my English students as an example of simple descriptive writing and story telling. Their writing assignment that week was to record one of their own childhood memories in a paragraph.

If you don’t mind, I’d like to share several other short vignettes (hopefully poignant and/or humorous) from this chapter in my childhood. Perhaps this will inspire you to recall and share some of your own childhood tales with someone you love!

Our family lived in a northern suburb of Kansas City from shortly before my fifth birthday in 1967 until 1971. Dad worked for an airline, TWA, as a computer programmer. (Yes, we’ve been a computer family since before I was born!) Believe it or not, he actually flew back to Chicago two evenings each week for quite some time so he could finish up his MBA at the University of Chicago

We lived at 34 Greentree Lane in a rather hilly neighborhood. Sometimes while driving home at night, we would stop at a certain bluff overlooking the beautiful city lights and exclaim, “Oooh, ahhh!” (Those exact words, every time!) Living in that hilly neighborhood meant that adjacent houses were not always at the same level as one another. One nearby yard sloped to a six foot retaining wall. I must have been only five when my tricycle, with me on it, plummeted over it onto the concrete patio of the next house below. The neighbor children ran screaming to my mother: “Virginia fell over a cliff! Virginia fell over a cliff!” The ambulance could not find our house so my parents frantically drove me to the hospital. I remember regaining consciousness with my head leaning against the window of our white Ford Fairlane station wagon. I still have the scars underneath my left eyebrow and on one of my middle fingers, which got caught in the tricycle spokes.

My birthday, September 7, fell just one week after the deadline for entering public school Kindergarten. Not wanting to hold me back, my parents enrolled me in a private school, Little Folks, which went up to first grade. The picture here is from my first day of school. It was on that momentous day, when the teacher called roll, that I found out my real name was Virginia instead of Ginny Lynn. (I had been named after the Ginny Lynn Restaurant. My Grandma Hess did persist in calling me Ginny Lynn off and on until I was a teenager.) When I graduated from Kindergarten there, my Grandpa Quarrier gave me a purple cow that played “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” when you pulled the cord.

Mom had to go back to work about halfway through my Kindergarten year. The first day she dropped me off at a home daycare before school, the cranky old lady, Mrs. Johnson, spanked me! My crime? Crying for Mom because I missed her! I dreaded her house so much that one day I got off at a friend’s bus stop instead of the one near her house. My mom got the picture, and found another babysitter. Ah, heaven this time! Mrs. Eugene Hull lovingly cared for the little children who were valued guests in her home. We read books (like Meet Abraham Lincoln, of which I have a copy today), watched Romper Room and Captain Kangaroo, and ate cookies dipped in milk. Her son Philip, the same age as me, would walk me to the bus stop since I was afraid of dogs. Decades later, while expecting our fourth baby, Thad and I happened to visit Kansas City --- and we stopped in to see Mr. and Mrs. Hull, living in the same house! That, again, shows the impression that warm welcome makes on a small child. A teenager named Marsha Thornton also sometimes babysat us in our home. She gave me the books The Large and Growly Bear and Sylvester, the Musical Mouse for my sixth birthday. I still have them! Books also make such a lasting imprint on small hearts and brains!

In 2nd grade, the public school finally decided I could join their ranks, then promptly moved me up to a combined 2nd/3rd class. My classmates and I loved to run to the library at recess time to check out our favorite Thornton W. Burgess animal books like Reddy the Fox. (I still own some of these classics, too!) The Bobbsey Twin mysteries were our other top picks. Back then, the school dress code was regulated by the ultra-conservative John Birch Society. Little girls could only wear dresses or skirts, unless it was snowing. Then they could wear pants underneath their dresses and then promptly remove the pants upon arriving at school. One day, our teacher had to leave the classroom and told us not to leave our seats. Being the obedient child, I stayed in my seat --- and wet my pants rather than walk over to the little bathroom that connected to our classroom. Mom had to bring me fresh clothes, and, you guessed it, I was sent home because she brought me a pair of pants to wear!

Since Dad worked for TWA, we enjoyed the perk of free or discounted flights. One year, we joined Dad on a business trip to England! It was originally supposed to be two weeks, but I think we wore them out too much, so we came home a week early. Of course, we “did” the usual London tourist things like watching the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, touring Westminster Cathedral, and riding the double decker red bus past the Big Ben clock tower. We got tickets to see the Dickens musical “Oliver” and walked the city streets in the rain. Our quaint little hotel was called The Hansel and Gretel. Our room on the top floor had slanted walls because of the roof dormer. Mom read The Dr. Seuss Sleep Book to us to try to settle us down. Everything cooked in the hotel kitchen (which was in the basement) tasted like fish. I don’t like fish! I think I must have consumed countless peanut butter crackers on that trip!

In spring 1971, Dad lost his job, but he found another one in the booming Silicon Valley near San Francisco. Our Midwestern days came to a close as we climbed aboard our covered wagon (a white pickup truck with a shell constructed of two-by-fours, canvas, and heavy plastic for windows – it even had bunkbeds in it and most certainly would be illegal now!) to head for the Pacific. I will always remember our Kansas City days with nostalgia.

You can find several dozen charming childhood photos, including one of me sitting on top of our refrigerator, here: Growing Up in the Quarrier Family.

My sweet 16 year old daughter, Joanna, has written her own blog post with some of her own memories -- of me! Mi Madre

Your own assignment, if you choose to accept it, is to browse through your old photo albums, cuddle up on the couch with someone you love, and tell your childhood stories. (You could even write them down for posterity.)

Virginia Knowles

Thursday, May 7, 2009

This Is My Song and I Sing

"This Is My Song and I Sing"
by Virginia Knowles

This is my song and I sing
Lyric of life, medley of my days
Melody and harmony
Solo, duet, chorale, round
Love song and lullaby
Anthem and protest chant
Rhapsody and dirge
Staccato, legato, crescendo, rest
Measure on measure, mystery on mystery, mercy on mercy
Stories of love, loss, faith, adventure, struggle, hope, grief, Heaven at last
I sing my own part as only I can
These lines, this life, penned by One who sang me into being
Who still rejoices over me with singing
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound!
This song of my pilgrimage
A cry of jubilee long coming
Echoing into an eternity of praise
This is my life and I live it
This is my song and I sing.

Weeks ago, a friend e-mailed and asked for advice in an area where she knew I had some real life experience. Serendipitously, something dawned on me as I replied to her. This epiphany was that everything we go through in life (whether it is thrilling, joyful, confusing, distressing, challenging or simultaneously all of the above) becomes part of our “life song.” It weaves itself into the message that we communicate to those around us, even when we don’t know they are listening or watching. The phrase “this is my song and I sing” started dancing in my head, so the next day I sat down and rough drafted the poem. I set it aside for several days, then finally finished it two weeks ago and shared it with a few close friends and family members. I hope it will be a blessing to you as well, maybe a comfort on a day of struggle or grief.

There are so many things I could say in conjunction with the lines of this poem. The one I most want to share with you is that God did not design you with a cookie cutter, and he didn’t abandon you on his drawing board either. You are unique and you are loved! Your story is one-of-a-kind, even while it is interconnected and overlapping with so many others. You may not conform to the expectations that others have for you. You may even encounter plot twists that you never thought you would see written into God’s script for your life. Yet when viewed through the clear and far-seeing lens of his providential care for you, whatever you experience can take you a deeper place, a richer grace. You may find a new song rising in your heart. You will be equipped to thrive with more endurance in the future. You could gain the courage to lay down some baggage that’s been weighing heavily on you or to stand up for a cause that has now become dear to you. You might empathize more compassionately with others whom you would have otherwise been tempted to judge harshly – and you will be able to advise them more wisely as they walk through the same things in life.

And if I can give you some hard-won advice gained through my own challenging experiences, it is to trust in the Lord who watches over us, whose abundant grace and mercy are available to all who enter into his Throne Room. Don’t evaluate yourself by the performance of others who are on your Pedestal of Perfection or in your Hall of Fame. You have your own beautiful song to sing, your own sacred life to live. The world awaits your melody!


P.S. Here are links to several of my other related articles on this blog and on my web site:

ruth and Grace in the Stories of Our Lives
"My Glorious Dishtowel" Redux and More
Come Weary Moms!
The Holy Wild
Sawdust and Buttons: Motherhood and the Vibrant Life
The Dance of Hope (and a note on journaling)
Rain Songs
We Live in Deeds, Not Years...
Living from the Deep Places of the Heart
Related Posts with Thumbnails